Earlier this year, U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik delivered a rousing speech on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives nominating Kevin McCarthy to serve as Speaker.
Calling McCarthy “a proud conservative with a tireless work ethic,” Stefanik, the upstate New York Congresswoman who serves as the House Republican Conference chair, said she was honored to nominate the California Republican “to lead America’s new Republican majority.”
After a protracted 15 rounds of voting, McCarthy finally received the speakership. While McCarthy stopped short of giving up a limb to secure the post, members of the party’s Freedom Caucus twisted McCarthy’s arm plenty, perhaps most consequentially forcing an arrangement in which a single House member can call for a snap vote to remove McCarthy from the speakership.
McCarthy’s agreement to such tenuous terms reflects the perilous position he finds himself in as Speaker of a party with such a slim House majority. McCarthy has had to look constantly over his shoulder, forever at the whims of the Republican right flank.
The overriding concern in January, when Stefanik – who is not a member of the Freedom Caucus – was the first to stand up on the floor and officially nominate McCarthy, was that capitulating to ultraconservative members during the leadership voting process would only lead to continued concessions and throw our government into chaos.
Now, we’re seeing those fears realized.
Without Congressional action, the federal government faces a shutdown at the end of the month. Vowing “no security, no funding,” Freedom Caucus members are holding up the budget appropriations and government funding process in the name of – among other causes – national security.
Their demands include passing a bill that aims to continue to build a wall at the southern border, reassurances that the Justice Department and FBI will no longer conduct what Freedom Caucus members see as political “witch hunts,” and cutting funding for Ukraine.
With such hyper-partisan insistences, they’ve hijacked the everyday business of the Congress.
All the while, Freedom Caucus members have continually held the threat of a snap vote over McCarthy’s head, and last week McCarthy allegedly told fellow House Republicans, “If you think you scare me because you want to file a motion to vacate, move the [expletive] motion,” according to reporting by Politico.
Appearing on Fox News Sunday, Stefanik told host Shannon Bream that she was chairing that meeting: “It’s our weekly discussion with all the Republican members,” Stefanik said, though she declined to confirm the quote.
Despite perceptions of disorder, Stefanik claimed on the Fox News Channel that things are under control.
“We’re going through great, productive conversations with our members,” said Stefanik, who represents New York’s 21st Congressional District, which includes territory in the Mohawk Valley, Capital Region and North Country.
Apparently, what Stefanik calls “productive conversations” many of us – as one Axios writer put it – would call “paralyzed chaos.”
Fox News’ own polling found that Congress’ approval rating sits at an abysmal 19%.
“Well, we’re in a very good place,” Stefanik countered on Fox News.
Stefanik may very well be comfortable with the ongoing funding negotiations because she and fellow Republicans are quietly quite pleased with the direction in which some House Republicans seem to want to take the country.
During her Fox News appearance, Stefanik seemed to agree with the Freedom Caucus’ desire to link immigration policy to government funding, especially in light of the influx of migrants coming to the United States, including more than 110,000 arriving in New York City since the spring.
“It’s why when we continue these appropriations discussions, one of our key priorities is making sure we have strong border security policies,” Stefanik said on Fox News.
Signs of further agreement between Stefanik and the Freedom Caucus come from her House floor speech in January, during which she stressed that House Republicans would “hold Joe Biden accountable.”
It’s no surprise then that Stefanik seems practically gleeful about McCarthy’s announcement last week to direct the House to open an impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden.
McCarthy previously said such a move should only come from a vote by the full House. But his announcement came after U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, of Florida, a vocal Freedom Caucus leader, threatened to oust McCarthy if he didn’t advance the impeachment process – a threat that strategically coincided with pressing government funding negotiations.
Stefanik doesn’t seem bothered one bit. In fact, she’s cheering it on.
“The impeachment inquiry is an important step to take for legal purposes, to make sure that the House and Congress as an institution is at its apex of Constitutional authority, to make sure that we can get access to documents and, frankly, depositions that we know the administration is going to stonewall,” Stefanik said on Fox News.
Even after McCarthy’s moves on impeachment, though, the Freedom Caucus hasn’t budged on funding the government. That presents real cause for concern about how far members are willing to push negotiations.
But is Stefanik worried?
“We are working through this and I’m optimistic that we will continue to move the appropriations process forward and that includes the D.O.D. appropriations bill,” Stefanik said on Fox News, referencing the fact that Freedom Caucus members recently derailed a military funding proposal, of all things.
As of Monday, the latest plans to avoid a shutdown call for a Thursday vote on a stopgap measure that would slash government spending and impose significant border restrictions but would fund the government in the short term.
But even that measure would only keep the federal government’s lights on through the end of October.
Assuming we get that far, it’s scary to think about what further concessions will be necessary to continue to fund the government come Halloween.
But so it goes in what Stefanik’s January speech dubbed “America’s new Republican majority.”
With every concession that “mainstream” Republicans make to members of the Freedom Caucus, their contention that they are the sensible members of the party comes ever closer to a masquerade.